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SJB blames huge losses on failure to complete storage complex

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Waste of perishables during ‘lockdown’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Dr. Harsha de Silva says substantial waste of vegetables due to the ‘lockdown’ imposed last Thursday night, to control the spread of the raging Covid-19 pandemic, could have been avoided if the incumbent government had completed the construction of Sri Lanka’s first temperature and humidity controlled warehouse complex for perishables,  at Dambulla, launched in April 2019.

The change of government, in Nov 2019 following the presidential election, had adversely impacted the project, the former UNP non-Cabinet Minister said, adding that he had requested Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardane to expedite the project as it benefited the farmer community.

The previous government undertook the construction of the warehouse complex capable of storing 5,000 metric tonnes of vegetables and fruits. The then Economic Reforms and Public Distribution Minister de Silva and Indian Deputy High Commissioner Dr. Shilpak N. Ambule initiated the project on land adjoining the Dambulla Economic Centre.

At the time of the launch, the government announced the agro cold storage complex was to be constructed with Rs 300 mn Indian financial grant and completed within six months. It was reported that the facility would consist of six separated sections of different temperature and humidity levels. The government intended to provide farmers an opportunity to store their excess harvest or in case of an emergency at a concessionary price.

Dr. de Silva said that the country couldn’t allow post-harvest losses and waste to continue not only during peak season but during emergency situations as well. The recent reportage of massive waste of vegetables and fruits due to the lockdown was shocking, the MP said, the failure to finish such a farmer friendly project couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.

The previous government planned similar agro-storage complexes at Keppetipola covering the Central Province, Jaffna covering the Northern Province, Embilipitiya covering the Southern Province.

MP de Silva said that when he pointed out the failure on the part of this government to address the issue, SLPP supporters questioned the rationale in my criticism demanding to know what the previous administration did in that regard. The former UNPer said that the Dambulla, project located in a three-and-half-acre land adjoining the Dambulla Economic Center was meant to revolutionize the food storing strategy.  The MP said the government shouldn’t have played politics with the Dambulla project.

Lawmaker de Silva said that the contentious issue of post-harvest losses had been discussed both in and outside Parliament. Leaving aside serious shortcomings in the government’s Covid-19 response, the top SJB spokesperson said that addressing the country’s requirement for proper facilities to store perishables should be met. The ongoing epidemic deteriorated the situation, the MP said, pointing out the country lacked required basic facilities to store excess harvest.

 Meanwhile, Matale District SJB MP and Dr. de Silva’s colleague, Rohini Kaviratne, flayed the government over the crisis caused by the farmers’ failure to sell large stocks of vegetables brought to the Dambulla Economic Centre. MP Kaviratne told The Island that having requested the farmers to bring their harvest there, the government imposed travel restrictions thereby preventing buyers coming to the Dambulla Economic centre. According to her, 2.6 mn kilos of perishables had been brought and allowed to go waste. The former UNP MP alleged that a certain politician and some businessmen manipulated the entire process for their benefit.

Dr. de Silva said that in addition to the Indian grant, his own Ministry provided Rs 225 million and proceeded with the project regardless of severe objections. Responding to another query, he said some objected to the project as it was meant to free the farming community from the clutches of the middlemen who brazenly exploited those who toiled in the fields.’

The project suffered a major setback in the wake of the declaration of 2019 presidential polls. “Overnight, the situation changed. Inordinate delays caused a chaotic situation,” the former Minister said, appreciating an opportunity given to him by Trade Minister Bandula Gunawardane to brief ministry officials of the Dambulla project as well as overall plans in that regard.

MP de Silva said that they adopted novel construction methods to control expenditure as conventional building of the structure would have cost as much Rs 1 bn. According to the SJB MP, the government should give priority to the Dambulla project and ensure the implementation of the original plan. If it was simply placed under ‘Sathosa’ the government couldn’t achieve the original objectives to make the farming community part of the decision-making process in a bid to give them a say in their own affairs.



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Haiti police riot after crime gangs kill 14 officers

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Protesters attempted to break into the Haitian prime minister's residence (picture BBC)

BBC reported that Rebel police officers rioted in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince on Thursday following the killing of more than a dozen colleagues by criminal gangs.

The rioting officers blame the government for not taking action.

More than 100 demonstrators blocked streets, burned tyres, broke security cameras and damaged vehicles.

Local media said several officers broke through the gates of the prime minister’s residence and attempted to enter Haiti’s international airport.

Fourteen officers are thought to have died since the start of the year in various gang attacks on police stations.

Seven officers were killed in shootout on Wednesday alone, according to Haiti’s National Police.

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Gold-covered mummy among latest discoveries in Egyptian tomb

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One of four newly discovered tombs at the Saqqara archaeological site south of Cairo (picture BBC)

BBC reported that archaeologists say they have found a gold leaf-covered mummy sealed inside a sarcophagus that had not been opened for 4,300 years.

The mummy, the remains of a man named Hekashepes, is thought to be one of the oldest and most complete non-royal corpses ever found in Egypt.

It was discovered down a 15m (50ft) shaft at a burial site south of Cairo, Saqqara, where three other tombs were found.

One tomb belonged to a “secret keeper”.

The largest of the mummies that were unearthed at the ancient necropolis is said to belong to a man called Khnumdjedef – a priest, inspector and supervisor of nobles.

Another belonged to a man called Meri, who was a senior palace official given the title of “secret keeper”, which allowed him to perform special religious rituals.

A judge and writer named Fetek is thought to have been laid to rest in the other tomb, where a collection of what are thought to be the largest statues ever found in the area had been discovered.

Several other items, including pottery, have also been found among the tombs.

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Health crisis: GMOA calls for WHO intervention

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Alleging the government has failed to address the developing crisis caused by grave shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has called for WHO’s intervention.In a letter dated January 26, 2023, addressed to WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge has raised concerns about shortage of pharmaceutical drugs, escalating prices of medicines and allegations of malpractices and corruption in procurement procedures.

The GMOA has released its letter to the media along with what it called a 10 fold plan formulated by an expert committee set up by the GMOA.

The following are the GMOA’s proposals:

1. To appoint a high-level coordinating committee within the Ministry of Health to ensure effective communications and coordination between following institutions, identified as responsible for the whole exercise. (a) Ministry of Health focal points (b) Medical Supplies Division (MSD) (c) State Pharmaceuticals Corporation (SPC) d. State Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Corporation (SPMC) e. National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) Monthly progress review meetings of aforementioned committees are to be ensured, with Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Health or his representative. Quarterly review with Minister of Health to facilitate arriving at essential policy decisions.

2. To ensure Transparent Procurement Procedures, where every interested citizen should be entitled to know the true facts.

3. To upgrade the available computer software programme to match the current needs and to ensure more efficiency in procurement procedures.

4. To appoint a technical committee to study Auditor General Reports with regard to procurement Procedures of last 5 years and actions to be declared with specific time frame to implement recommendations of the Auditor General.

5. Review the recent Presidential Investigation Commission reports and initiate urgent actions to file legal action against the respondents. Remove all those officials who are accused through these reports of malpractices, from their current posts, until the verdicts are delivered.

6. To minimise emergency purchases of Medicinal drugs and ensure the transparency of that process through progress reports on emergency purchases, which is to be published on a monthly basis.

7. To identify alternative modes for distribution of pharmaceutical drugs to peripheral stations (e.g.: Public Transport services with identified modifications)

8. To open an “Information Desk” at the Ministry of Health to effectively communicate with and guide the donors of pharmaceutical items.

9. To fill the existing vacancies at National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA), following stipulated acceptable pathways and activating all the sub committees within NMRA.

10. To declare a relief package to reduce the prices of essential medicinal drugs, through the upcoming interim budget.

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